27 Mar

The Downside for Community College Transfers

For decades students have sought to save money by taking the community college route. Many would take two or three years to work on their general education requirements, and then transfer over to a 4-year college or university to earn a bachelor’s degree.

At first glance, spending the first portion of schooling at a community college might seem the ideal choice, but there are several hidden pitfalls.

Missing Out

One of the best things about your student’s attending a 4-year college or university is that it offers him or her a broadened sense of the world. For most students, college is not merely a place to earn a degree, it is a time of transition between childhood and adulthood. It is when they begin to make their own decisions, experience the consequences of those actions, and learn to be self-sufficient. In short, college life is an experience unto itself.

Community colleges tend to lack this aspect. Many students who are age 18-20 and attend a community college agree that they have more of a “high school” feel to them, because the majority of these students still live at home. There they are not only supervised by mom and dad, but often miss out on smaller tasks such as doing their own laundry and planning their meals, as well as the immensely more important decision-making of forming a new peer group, and choosing what type of person they will become. They also miss out on the opportunity to live on-campus with other students for those four (or more) years of their lives.

As transfers, they later may find it more difficult to connect with other students and their new campus, because they did not have those previous common experiences of being an underclassman.  The bonding experience of the freshman year can be invaluable in helping to make a student feel at home at college.

Making Up

In many cases, taking lower division courses at a community college can save on the initial up-front cost of college courses, but it may leave your student in the lurch. For one thing, your child may be less likely to complete his education on time–or at all. Only about 29% of community college attendees end up transferring to a four-year school.  To me, this is a shocking statistic and evidence that the community college “feeder” system is not working.

Students may also have difficulty transferring their credits over. Unless they have worked carefully with an adviser both at their community college and at the 4-year school to which they plan to transfer, they may end up with courses that do not transfer for credit. This means your child would have to make up those lost credits at the university level, translating into more time (and money!) spent.

Making Less

A new report on community colleges from the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis sheds some light on the financial disadvantages of transferring from a community college. While students who complete part of their community college education tend to make up to 13% more than those with only a high school diploma, they earn less than those students who attend all 4-years at a 4-year college. In fact, the study showed that students who attended community college first earn $2,426 to $7,768 less per year than students with their same profession who only went to a four-year college!

While community college can certainly prove to be the right choice for some students, I felt it was important for you to read about some of the disadvantages you might have not yet considered.  For any student who is committed to going to college, there are many colleges that would be a great fit for any particular student.  That’s why it’s so important to do the research upfront so your student can find the type of environment that will allow him or her make that transition from adolescent to young adult in a safe and comfortable way.

All the best,
Deborah Fox

photo by scol22

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